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Consumers have had plenty of reasons to meditate on the new wave of minimalist fashion now in stores, namely to decide if a simple camel coat — as all the magazines suggested — is the right look for them this fall. As a trend, minimalism seemed to come out of left field this season, ubiquitous on the runways for no better reason than, well, Phoebe Philo is doing it, so it must be right.
Elyssa Dimant, a fashion historian and a former research associate at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, decided to look a bit further into the subject in her substantive new book, “Minimalism and Fashion: Reduction in the Postmodern Era” (Collins Design). Ms. Dimant examined the role of minimalism in fashion, but also looked at the broader context of its appearance in art, architecture and design, noting some surprising correlations along the way. One of the most intriguing aspects of her book is the juxtaposition of runway looks with art and sculpture, such as an organic piece by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher opposite dresses from an unrelated resort collection by the Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa, or a Richard Serra installation of curling metal plates next to Hussein Chalayan’s coffee-table dress from 2000.
Mr. Costa wrote in the foreward of the book that the vocabulary of minimalism is indeed similar to that of architecture, noting, “The starkness of the minimal design is not a rejection but instead an opportunity to understand and celebrate the purity of form.” The cover of the book shows an image of a black coat from Mr. Costa’s fall 2008 collection, photographed for a Calvin Klein advertising campaign.
“People see in minimalism the simplicity and the reduction,” Ms. Dimant said in an interview. “The basic-ness is easily understood, but the thinking behind it and the intention are not as well known.”
Ms. Dimant said she was surprised by how deeply the roots of minimalism in fashion extended, to Madeleine Vionnet and Paul Poiret in the early part of the 20th century, and to the influence of Constructivist painting on André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin in the 1960s. Looking at the latest examples, she said, we have simply reached an apogee of a trend that has been developing for a few years. But the timing was noteworthy, she added, because it happened in the first decade of a new century, when designers are likely looking toward the future, “and futurism and minimalism are intrinsically linked.”